It was a dry, sunny, fall day, and Brianne O’Donnell, who works at One City Center and lives in Portland, was out walking with a friend after lunch. Wearing a sweater, skirt and tall, heeled leather boots, she looked like any of the young professionals on the sidewalks of the Old Port. Unlike many young professionals these days, however, O’Donnell won’t change a thing about her footwear once the snow falls.
“I’ll still be wearing heels on the cobblestones and brick sidewalks all winter,” she says as she dashes up the brick walk and back to work. “Walk on tiptoes; that’s the secret.”
Staying stylish in the face of slush, ice, and the occasional blizzard can be a daunting task for a woman in Maine. According to Stephanie Muir-MacCallum, the manager of J.L. Coombs in the Old Port, the best investment is a great pair of boots. And wouldn’t you know it – there’s an array of styles to choose from as fashion boots continue to grow in popularity.
Walk into a store like J.L. Coombs, and you’ll find shelves lined with all the leading brands in myriad choices, depending on your pocketbook and your purpose. There is Frye, Sorel, Bogs, Hunter, Rieker, Ugg, and Mizz Moo, just to name a few.
“Women complain that they can’t find comfortable shoes that look good with a skirt, so they’re opting for boots,” says Muir-MacCallum.
Muir-MacCallum says many women still choose to carry their dress heels to work in their tote bag or brief case, thus making a pair of Bogs, Sorel or Hunter boots the choice for navigating the streets in a waterproof way. The Hunters are those high rubber boots reminiscent of the bird hunters in your family. They’ve achieved extreme cache among younger women because of their crayon hues – bright orange, original (hunter) green, yellow, red, navy, teal and black. You’ll certainly stand out from the snow drifts, especially when you pair them with fleece Welly socks in a zigzag pattern – an over-the-knee item that cuffs over the top of rubber boots to add more color and pizzazz.
Bogs is another rubber boot, with a tighter-fitting shape. Many have a neoprene, foam-insulated upper and colorful rubber toe and sole. Then there are the Sorels, an imported, waterproof boot that comes in a range of styles. Some styles are memes of the classic L.L. Bean boot, but the most popular Sorel is the Joan of Arctic, whose name evokes the crusading spirit of the modern woman as she navigates the slushy streets or digs her car out of a plow-made snowbank the day after a storm. The Joan of Arctic’s buckled, suede boot rises almost to the knee, and sports a faux fur snow cuff and a removable felt lining.
Lest you think the L.L. Bean boot has gone the way of the dinosaur, the company reports brisk sales for its classic Bean Boot – updated with a shearling lining that can be folded over and shoelaced for a more fashionable look. Footwear product developer Mike Simensky says the Bean boot, the Storm Chaser, and the Snow Sneaker are all popular styles among the company’s Maine customers.
“In cold and snowy weather, Maine women typically are more concerned with functionality than style, but ultimately they want both,” he says.
The desire for style is precisely why the take-off-your-boots, put-on-your-heels routine doesn’t cut it for a lot of Maine women. Many women – like O’Donnell , a real estate agent – must brave the elements several times during a work day. According to Muir-MacCallum, Frye and Rieker boots were made for the woman who wants to look stylish even out in a storm. The key to turning your fashion boots into an all-weather staple, of course, is a waterproofing cream and cleanser. Muir-MacCallum says creams and gels work better than sprays because they are absorbed into the leather, moisturizing it as it waterproofs it.
“Like hand lotion on your skin,” she says.
Muir-MacCallum says Frye boots are especially popular this year.
“They’re stylish and cool and you can get 30 years out of a pair,” she says.
In fact, there are young women walking around in their mom’s old Frye boots, but probably not in the wintertime. Back then, the soles were made of leather and you’d have to be a daredevil to think of wearing them on a slippery winter street in the Old Port. These days, some Frye styles come with a rubber sole, or you can take them to your local cobbler and have a rubber sole put on.
“I know a couple of cobblers who stay in business that way,” says Michelle Bolduc, the manager of the Bliss boutique in the Old Port.
A tall display case devoted to Frye boots sits smack in the middle of Bliss. Bolduc points out the classic Harness style, with the square toe, a buckle, and the chunky 1-inch heel. But like other classic bootmakers, Frye has a growing line of boots for the fashion-minded woman to choose from. There are taller boots with a 2-inch to 33?4-inch heel, like the Jackie Button, and shorter boots, with a heel and a zipper, like the Carson pull-on.
“We’re seeing a lot of women wearing boots all year round in the Old Port,” Bolduc says.
And not all of them are walking on their tiptoes.